Con-soul Searching: 11 Buttons? I Only Have 10 Fingers!
Metroid: Other M just came out earlier this week. I played it, I reviewed it, I loved it. Even though I got 100%, I am still going to play it some more after I write this article (I have a theory there might be a super secret ending). Anyway, I have spent the morning looking over reviews for Other M and the one complaint that everyone seems to have is the controls. I think the developers did a good job considering they designed a complex game using only the Wiimote. For the most part the controls work well but in a few places the limited input of the Wiimote seems to hinder the player’s ability to survive. This relates to something I have been mentioning in Con-soul Searching lately. How complicated are video game controllers going to get?
Let’s take a quick lap in the Nintendo Okie Time DeLorean. Time circuits on. Arcade machines have a wide array of control setups. Some use a standard joystick with a varying number of buttons, some use trackballs and others use levers and pedals. There isn’t really a standard control scheme since game cabinets are built with one game in mind. It wasn’t until the advent of the home console that controls needed to be standardized. Since consoles only use one controller (for the majority of the time) developers had to start designing controls around the number of buttons, joysticks and directional pads available to them. Over time, console controllers have grown rather complex. In just 30 years they have evolved from one button and a joystick to 11 buttons, two joysticks and a d-pad. I can’t imagine what controllers will look like in another 30 years if things continue at this pace.
Thankfully, controller advancement hasn’t produced more buttons lately. Things have been holding steady for the last couple generations. However, Nintendo has opened things up in an entirely new direction with motion controls. Now instead of more buttons, several actions are dependent on which way you move the controller. It is an added level of complexity that game players and developers had to get used to. Fast forward four years and Microsoft and Sony are both on the verge of releasing their version of a motion controller. Whether or not these controllers will be successful is yet to be seen, but it makes me wonder if the future of controllers is not controller at all. The more technology advances, the more interfaces seem to be streamlined to be as intuitive as possible. Since video games are all about controls, it is only natural for them to follow this trend.
I’m all for intuitive controls, but if things are streamlined that, will probably mean the death of specialized controllers. Some people would jump for joy if they didn’t have to make room for more plastic guitars and steering wheels but it would mean the death of a tradition that has been with video games since the beginning. Let go back to the Atari 2600, even though it used the standard joystick, it also had paddle controllers, a driving controller and a few other special controllers. The NES came with the Zapper and some with R.O.B. Peripherals are a mainstay of consoles that were inherited from the arcades. Go into any arcade now (if you can find one) and it will be filled with cabinets attached to mechanical monstrosities that replicate a motorcycle or a tank. Since video games were born in the arcades, it only natural for consoles to try and capture that same feeling and for good reason. Some games just wouldn’t feel the same on standard controllers. I have played Guitar Hero 3 with the 360 controller. It’s weird.
Now before you go thinking that Kinect and Move will be the end of special controllers, keep in mind that they are specialized controllers themselves. I have a feeling that these new game interfaces will just add more options to the future of controlling our games. I don’t think we will ever see the disappearance of a normal controller but instead they will be used in tandem with motion sensing cameras and accelerometers. Whether that means games will be easier to control is still a question. After playing Other M, I feel that the controls took some getting used to but in the end the developers did a lot with the limited amount of input options the restricted themselves to. It gives me hope that future controllers won’t be just endless buttons and switches and that potential players won’t be too intimidated to avoid video games.
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